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of slaves. If gentlemen question our sincerity, let them consider at what period of life it is, that emancipation most frequently takes place. It is at that serious moment, when men sit down to settle their worldly concerns, and, as it were, to take their leave of the world. Then it is, by the last will, to take effect when their own control is ended, that owners restore their slaves to freedom, and, by what they certainly consider an act of justice, surrender them to themselves, rather than leave them to the disposal of they know not whom. Let gentlemen from the south reflect on this. The public sentiment, upon the subject of slavery, is every where improved, and still improving. It has already destroyed that monstrous inhumanity called the slave trade. I fear that such a measure, as is now proposed by the opponents of the restriction, would not merely check and retard its progress. I seriously fear that it may gradually work an entire change. The effects are not to be contemplated without the deepest anxiety. The political aspect of the subject is not less alarming. The existence of this condition among us, continually endangers the peace and well being of the union, by the irritation and animosity it creates betwen neighbouring states. It weakens the nation while it is entire : And if ever a division should happen, can any one reflect without horror, upon the consequences that may be worked out of an extensively prevailing system of slavery We are told, indeed, both in the house and out of it, to leave the matter to Providence. Those who tell us so, are nevertheless active and eager in the smallest of their own concerns, omitting nothing to secure success. Sir, we are endowed with faculties, that enable us to judge and to choose—to look before and after, however imperfectly. When these have been fairly and conscientiously exerted, we may then humbly submit the consequences, with a hope and belief, that, whatever they may be, they will not be imputed to us. The issue of our counsels, however well meant, is not in our hands. But, if for our own gratification, regardless of all considerations of right or wrong, of good or evil, we hug a vicious indulgence to our bosom, until we find it turning to a venomous serpent, and threatening to sting us to the heart, with what rational or consoling expectation can we call upon Providence to tear it away and save us from destruction.
It is time to come to a conclusion. I fear I have already trespassed too long. In the effort I have made to submit to the committee my views of this question, it has been impossible to escape entirely the influence of the sensation that pervades this house. Yet, I have no such apprehensions as have been expressed. The question is indeed an important one ; but its importance is derived altogether from its connection with the extension, indefinitely, of negro slavery, over a land which I trust Providence has destined for the labour and the support of freemen. I have no fear that this question, much as it has agitated the country, is to produce any fatal division, or even to generate a new organization of parties. It is not a question upon which we ought to indulge unreasonable apprehensions, or yield to the counsels of fear. It concerns ages to come, and millions to be born. It is, as it were, a question of a new political creation, and it is for us, under Heaven, to say, what shall be its condition. If we impose the restriction, it will, I hope, be finally imposed. But, if hereafter it should be found right to remove it, and the state consent, we can remove it. Admit the state, without the restriction, the power is gone forever, and with it are forever gone all the efforts that have been made by the non slave holding states, to repress and limit the sphere of slavery, and enlarge and extend the blessings of freedom. With it, perhaps, is gone forever, the power of preventing the traffic in slaves, that inhuman and detestable traffic, so long a disgrace to christendom. In future, and no very distant times, convenience and profit, and necessity, may be found as available pleas as they formerly were, and for the luxury of slaves, we shall again involve ourselves in the sin of the trade. We
must not presume too much upon the strength of our resolutions. Let every man who has been accustomed to the indulgence, ask himself if it is not a luxury—a tempting luxury, which solicits him strongly and at every moment. The prompt obedience, the ready attention, the submissive and humble, but eager effort to anticipate command—how flattering to our pride, how soothing to our indolence 1 To the members from the south, I appeal to know whether they will suffer any temporary inconvenience, or any speculative advantage to expose us to the danger. To those of the north, no appeal can be necessary. To both, I can most sincerely say, that as I know my own views on this subject to be free from any unworthy motive, so will I believe, that they likewise have no object but the common good of our common country, and that nothing would have given me more heartfelt satisfaction, than that the present proposition should have originated in the same quarter to which we are said to be indebted for the ordinance of 1787. Then, indeed, would Virginia have appeared in even more than her wonted splendor, and spreading out the scroll of her services, would have beheld none of them with greater pleasure, than that series which began, by pleading the cause of humanity in remonstrances against the slave trade, while she was yet a colony, and, embracing her own act of abolition, and the ordinance of 1787, terminated in the restriction on Missouri. Consider, what a foundation our predecessors have laid! And behold, with the blessing of Providence, how the work has prospered What is there, in ancient or in modern times, that can be compared with the growth and prosperity of the states formed out of the North West Territory ! When Europeans reproach us with our negro slavery; when they contrast our republican boast and pretensions with the existence of this condition among us, we have our answer ready—it is to you we owe this evil—you planted it here, and it has taken such root in the soil, we have not the power to eradicate it. Then, turning to the west, and directing their attention to Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, we can proudly tell them, these are the offspring of our policy and our laws, these are the free productions of the constitution of the United States. But, if beyond this smiling region, they should descry another dark spot upon the face of the new creation—another scene of negro slavery, established by ourselves, and spreading continually towards the further ocean, what shall we say then 7 No, sir, let us follow up the work our ancestors have begun. Let us give to the world a new pledge of our sincerity. Let the standard of freedom be planted in Missouri, by the hands of the constitution, and let its banner wave over the heads of none but freemen—men retaining the image impressed upon them by their Creator, and dependant upon none but God and the laws. Then, as our republican states extend, republican principles will go hand in hand with republican practice—the love of liberty with the sense of justice. Then, sir, the dawn, beaming from the constitution, which now illuminates Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, will spread with increasing brightness to the further west, till in its brilliant lustre, the dark spot which now rests upon our country, shall be forever hid from sight. Industry, arts, commerce, knowledge, will flourish with plenty and contentment for ages to come, and the loud chorus of universal freedom, re-echo from the Pacific to the Atlantic, the great truths of the Declaration of Independence. Then too, our brethren of the south, if they sincerely wish it, may scatter their emancipated slaves through this boundless region, and our country, at length, be happily freed forever from the foul stain and curse of slavery. And if (may it be far, very far distants) intestine commotion—civil dissention—division, should happen—we shall not leave our posterity exposed to the combined horrors of a civil and a servile war. If any man still hesitate, influenced by some temporary motive of convenience, or ease, or profit, I charge him to think what our fathers have suffered for us, and then to ask his heart, if he can be faithless to the obligation he owes to posterity?
DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, MARCH 7TH, 1822, ON THE BILL TO ESTABLISH AN UNIFORM SYSTEM OF BANKRUPTCY THROUGHOUT THE UNITED STATES.
It is my duty now to endeavour to reply to the principal objections which have been made to the passage of this bill.” After so much discussion, and at this late stage of the debate, I would gladly dispense with its performance and relieve the House from further trespass upon its patience. But, this would not be just to the very interesting subject before us, nor to those who have so anxiously besought our attention to it; and I must therefore ask the indulgence of the house, while, as rapidly as may be in my power, I bring into their view, the answers—satisfactory ones I hope they will be found—to the arguments of those who are opposed to the bill. I can say with truth, what probably can scarcely be said by any other member of the house—that I have listened, attentively, to every speech that has been made on either side of the question, with only one exception, and that was owing to circumstances over which I had no control, and which I very much regret. I have listened with pleasure, and with instruction, too, and with an increased conviction of the expediency, necessity, and justice of the measure proposed. If doubt had remained in my mind, it would
* Mr. Sergeant was chairman of the committee on the Judiciary who reported the bill.